Saints secondary a primary concern for opposition

Another stiff test for `D' in Vikings' No. 5 offense

Pro Football


NEW ORLEANS - Imagine, if you will, a heavyweight challenger stepping into the ring to face Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield, Joe Frazier and Joe Louis - all in their primes, all in a row.

Can you say punch drunk?

Now consider the New Orleans Saints defensive secondary, which goes up against the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL's No. 5-rated offense in Saturday's NFC playoff game at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

The comes on the heels of back-to-back games against St. Louis and their No. 1-rated offense that produced 327 passing yards a game.

And, since the beginning of November, the NFC West champion Saints (11-6) have faced San Francisco twice, Oakland and Denver. All three teams finished among the top six in the NFL in total offense.

"It's great," Saints starting cornerback Alex Molden said. "You've got to get up for it. I love it. Who wants to go up against No. 25 offense or something like that? I love it. It's a chance for everyone on the defense to show their stuff and to shine. I'm looking forward to it."

That confidence is impressive, but things are easier said than done. Even though their offensive ranking is four spots lower than St. Louis, the Vikings have just as many weapons.

Quarterback Daunte Culpepper has accounted for 40 touchdowns this season, 33 via the pass and seven via the run. The second-year pro from Central Florida has gained 470 yards rushing (5.3 yards per carry) and has completed 62.7 percent of his passes with just 16 interceptions.

"That's a quarterback that's going to create some problems," Molden said "They can move around and create more time for the receivers to get open. We've got a game plan to go in there. We're going to create some doubt in the quarterback's mind to give our pass rush more time."

In the backfield, Minnesota has running back Robert Smith, who led the NFC with 1,521 yards rushing (5.2 yards per carry) and scored seven touchdowns.

"They keep the chains moving," Saints defensive coordinator Ron Zook said.

Wide receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter complete the talented corps of skill players. The steady Carter, considered a sure Hall of Famer, was third in the NFC with 96 receptions for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns.

Moss, perhaps the most athletic wideout in league history, had 77 catches for 1,437 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"Moss is a guy who just totally explodes to the deep part of the field," Saints defensive backs coach Rick Venturi said. "I'm not going to get into the Xs and Os of it, but there are certainly some things we've got to do to slow him down and keep him away from the deep part of the field.

"Carter is still one of the best situational receivers in football.

Third down, red zone, critical situations. You're going to have to mix your double coverages and mix and match. I think we've got to do a great job of concealing our intent before the snap. We've done a pretty good job of that this year. But we've got to do a great job this week."

The Saints held St. Louis below 200 yards of total offense over the first three quarters of their 31-28 playoff win last Saturday. The Rams heated up in the fourth quarter to finish with 384 yards.

That was still 58 yards below their season average.

Zook said the main difference between the speedy Rams and the Vikings is strength.

"They line up and they'll hit you in the mouth," Zook said of the Vikings. "They've got a much better offensive line, obviously. Their receivers are very good, just like St. Louis and their running back is very good, just like St. Louis' running back. Their quarterback has impressed everybody."

Of course, almost every offense the Saints have faced lately came into the game impressive. But they haven't always left the game the same way.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.